Ahh you see, this series hasn't entirely died a death!
Off the back of my last post, it occurred to me that there was also material for a FF post in there. We're all encouraged to exercise, and to eat healthily, but in itself it can be a challenge to keep the costs down on those - and oddly enough you rarely seem to see anything beyond "oh just do free stuff!" suggesting how people might do that! In between clothes for being active in, actually finding activities themselves that don't break the bank, and getting our ideal "5 a day of different coloured fruit and veg" it is easy for costs to spiral, and not everyone has the ability to allow that to happen. In a world where it's cheaper to buy a packet of Crispy pancakes than it is to buy a Mango, and a months Gym membership can cost more than a medium level Sky TV package, what are the best ways to being able to keep fit and eat well, on a budget?
Firstly - exercise. I was already doing masses of walking of course, and that requires relatively little in the way of specialist equipment. Good footwear - solid boots or shoes but not massively heavy ones - and a decent breathable waterproof jacket are the only essential bits. Charity shops are always worth a look for jackets as people go on a "health kick" then get bored, so their expensive waterproof ends up being sold for a fraction of it's regular price. For footwear the big stores like Sports Direct or Go Outdoors are a good starting point as they have a superb range at all price levels. If money is tight then start off trying things on at the lowest price point and see what feels comfortable. A good tip for improving the comfort of walking boots is to try wearing two pairs of socks with them - a thin cotton inner pair with a more chunky sock over the top - this can help to reduce blisters for some people. (Do remember if you plan to do this to try them on with both pairs though or they will be too tight!) A boot with a replaceable insole is a great idea as often the insoles fail before the boot does so being able to replace those separately can work well. ALWAYS wear walking footwear for short periods of time to start with while you get used to it and it moulds to the shape of your foot. If money is less of an issue a specialist pair of walking trousers can prove more comfortable than walking in jeans or leggings. Another "free to do" activity is running, of course, but again you will need at least some basic items of kit to avoid discomfort or injury. A decent pair of trainers (or if running off-road, supportive, well fitting trail shoes) is vital - but again there are ways to keep the costs down on this. I find that a trip to the Outlet Village is my best bet when I need trainers - there are outlet stores there for two of the big sportswear brands and my current pair (adorned with a "swish" logo and in a rather fetching shade of purple) are specifically designed for running and cost me the grand sum of £22. If you plan to run in them, then when trying on make sure you bounce about a bit at least, and ideally get in a few steps of running to see how they feel. A specialist running shop if you have one locally might be worth a look as non mainstream branded running shoes aren't as expensive as you might think - and if you're planning to do a lot of running then the advantage of having shoes properly fitted might outweigh a bit of extra cost anyway. Another essential for those of us of a female persuasion is a good sports bra - otherwise the discomfort, particularly for the better endowed, will rapidly put you off. Again these are available at all sorts of price-points - from basic crop-top style "supports" designed for wearing over a regular bra for a fiver from Primarni, through to £40+ examples from specialist suppliers. A good compromise here is to look for something reduced in clearance as you can often then pick up a top of the range one for a fraction of the usual price. My £40 RRP Freya one cost me £23 from Brastop, and the good thing there is that it's a brand I knew so I was confident that my usual size would fit. Larger ladies in particular, look for nice wide straps and a substantial wide back with multi-hooks (mine's got 4 and can ONLY be put on by doing it up at the front and turning it round - I'm 13 again every time!) as this will help with comfort. When trying on for fit some vigorous bouncing is definitely the way forwards... ;-). You could perfectly well run in ordinary leggings if that's what you have, but both Matalan and Tesco have a great range of specific running/gym leggings in a variety of styles and lengths - I've got a couple of the Matalan 3/4 length ones (£9 each I believe) and a full length pair of winter ones with a beautifully soft fleece lining - think those were £12. Look out for a fit that won't slide down when you're running, don't fret too much about leg length as they can always be folded over, and a key pocket is helpful. (Failing that find either a fleece or light jacket with zipped pockets, or a lanyard you can clip your key onto, as nobody needs to be running along panicking about losing that!)
Personally, I've always found the gym both enjoyable (yes, honestly!) and really helpful in terms of giving me a measure of how I'm doing as far as fitness goes - but it can be an expensive venture with monthly memberships costing a fortune in some cases. I searched about a bit for budget gyms near home but didn't find anything much in a practical location (knowing I'd mostly be going straight after work, I needed something with parking which rules out most of the within-budget options) at a price I could afford. I then shifted my focus to closer to work and found a small Community Sports Centre within a local college, offering reduced price memberships and also "Pay as you Train" access to the gym for not only local residents but also those working locally. I pay £7 per visit, which as I generally make it there once a week, but not always, works out better than a monthly membership fee for me. I'm not tied in to any sort of contract, and there was no joining fee - literally I just walk in (15 minute walk from the office which acts as a decent warm-up!) when I want to, and pay my £7. The downside of this sort of place is no classes, no PT's and limited opening hours (5pm - 10pm) but as I will always be using it within those times, and have no interest in classes anyway, this isn't an issue for me. It's got all the machines I want both on the cardio and strength training side, and being a community centre it's not full of Body Builder types, OR entirely walled in mirrors which I find incredibly offputting!
In terms of food, if you're happy to not be eating exotic stuff at every meal, happily the often heard "it's more expensive to eat healthily than badly" tale is a total fallacy. All the major supermarkets and the discounters now have a range of low priced fruit and veg which changes on either a weekly or fortnightly basis. At the time of writing Aldi can offer you packs of sprouts, leeks and pears at no more than 69p each, while a visit to ThaT supermarkeT would net you Citrus fruit for 79p, and a whole host of vegetable options from carrots to courgettes at 60p or less per pack. When we switch our meal planning to work from what veg options are the best value that week, and use those as a starting point, it's possible to eat very healthily indeed on a tight budget. In additional most of the supermarkets now offer a range of "wonky veg" - not so easy on the eye but just as full of taste - for a discount price in a bid to try to tackle some of the issues around food waste. Carbs aren't left out either - wholewheat couscous is the same price as white, wholewheat pasta is generally sold at the same as white (although often only in 500g bags) and my favourite brown basmati rice is available from Home Bargains at a budget-friendly 99p a kilo, or at least it was last time I ventured in for some! I'll be the first to admit that getting a full 5 a day isn't always easy - I tend to have bananas for breakfast for part of the week, and generally have an apple and some citrus fruit of some sort after my lunch - yes, you'll notice that we veer towards the lower priced fruit options - we prefer not to eat berries etc that can be grown in the UK out of season for the most part, but I do occasionally buy Blueberries or grapes in the winter months for some variation. Generally though that is when they're on special offer. Remember a glass of fruit juice can count as one of your five a day (and that is regardless of whether it is from concentrate or the other sort) and beans and pulses also work - AND have the advantage of being cheap as chips (in fact CHEAPER than chips!) as well as being great sources of iron and protein. Tinned pulses are best picked up from the "ethnic foods" aisles in the major supermarkets or the dedicated shops that many of us are now lucky to have nearby, and dried are always cheapest from the dedicated shops and can be bought in larger quantity. (Those shops are also a fantastic place to pick up all manner of herbs and spices at a great price, too!). If nothing else with your food shopping and meal planning try to remember that the suggestion that "you pay for convenience" is usually true, plus when you cook from scratch you have the control over what you put in, and that's got to be better for you, right?